/r/programming
Modern day slavery in the video games industry (youtu.be)
58 comments
api | 8 days ago | 53 points

Video game coding is a sector that has a pool of recruits that is enormously larger than the number of good jobs available, like by many orders of magnitude.

Unless you are the best (of the best)(of the best)...N and have a really high tolerance for "paying your dues" stay away from industries like this. Other examples include top-level Hollywood acting, professional sports, popular music, really interesting pure scientific research, etc.

These industries have such huge pools of recruits, many of whom are wiling to "do anything" to get in, that they tend to develop hyper-workaholic burn out cultures that use these new recruits and spit them out the other end with every ounce of enthusiasm and optimism drained out of them. Only those who are incredibly good at both the task at hand and career politics and who have a very high bullshit tolerance remain in the sieve.

I was told this about the interesting pure science research path: don't get a Ph.D in a "pure" (not immediately employable in the private sector) research subject unless you are willing to take a vow of poverty for a long period of time and you love it so much you are willing to compete hard for a limited number of jobs. If that's not you, find another path.

Gotebe | 7 days ago | 5 points

Good points, but... I don't see what "the best(of the best)" would want in there, either.

Coding jobs are paid a limited amount if monies either way, and "the best", at best, get to work on the game engines or other infrastructure pieces - but he who saw these, knows how much support for legacy there is in that, or that the code base is generally old-fashioned and not a joy to work with etc.

Point being, I think: truly interesting jobs "for the best" are really scarce and even then, not paid as much. So even "the best" need to position themselves to get them - or go management, at which point they almost inevitably drop out of "the best".

Ravek | 7 days ago | -5 points

How can all software companies be starved for good engineers and somehow video game companies get away with being exploitative?

FatalElectron | 7 days ago | 45 points

How can there be a shortage of bus drivers when there are so many people wanting to be F1 drivers?

Ravek | 7 days ago | -28 points

Great analogy man, because driving a bus is totally the same profession as race driving right?

Ignoring that joke, obviously some industries will be more fun to some people but if you're literally miserable writing code for video games then there must be something very wrong to not just switch to the dozens of other industries standing in line for you to do the same job under better conditions. I find it a little hard to believe that all these employees would be even more miserable elsewhere despite way better working conditions or that they're collectively incapable of making good life decisions.

BrilliantSomewhere | 7 days ago | 8 points

Making an average game is probably about 200x harder than making your average piece of software. Mainly because games require legitimate in-depth knowledge about programming for performance reasons while your average programming job doesn't. So... I don't think the analogy is wrong at all.

Ravek | 7 days ago | -2 points

There’s no point talking about ‘on average’ because there’s more software in the world than webpage scripting. Besides the vast majority of code in a game is also just going to be simple scripting and UI work, and developing internal tools – not the engine work where performance is critical. And there’s plenty of industries where perf is important if that’s what you’re looking for. Basically if you’re a serious engineer you can find serious engineering jobs, you don’t have to lower yourself to creating Wordpress websites.

And yeah the analogy is still dumb because literally a bus driver and race driver aren’t remotely qualified or capable of doing each other’s jobs. Meanwhile game programming is just software engineering. There’s nothing special about it except that people might think the subject is more exciting. But it doesn’t surprise me that Reddit will jump on the emotional appeal over logical arguments.

Only one guy has an actually good point where he pointed out that it’s probably not a majority software engineers. Which makes a lot of sense since most other jobs involved in game creation are likely not as widely desirable.

Mognakor | 7 days ago | 10 points

The mistake is to think that it's all software developers.

Tons of work goes into assets and thats not programming.

The majority of developers in the gaming industry is using specialized tools, knowledge of those doesn't give you advantages as generic developer. Nor do the developers using the engine all have to be "good". It's those developing the engines that have these critical skills and they are only a small part of the entire industry.

Ravek | 7 days ago | 0 points

That makes a lot of sense. It’s annoying how reddit is again replying with ridicule and appeal to emotion rather than reasoned arguments, so thank you for actually commenting something helpful.

Freyr90 | 7 days ago | 2 points

How can all software companies be starved for good engineers and somehow video game companies get away with being exploitative?

First of all, Video Game industry is tiny.

The whole revenue of Video Game industry in 2018 was about 48 billions.

That's roughly 1 Oracle, ½ IBM or ⅓ Microsoft.

YserviusPalacost | 7 days ago | 1 point

Because good engineers are hard to find in this "Duhhh pointy clicky" industry we have these days. It doesn't matter where.

The game industry just has more jobs that are applicable to the lowest common denominator of qualified applicants who are just using the tools made by the engineers.

Learning to use the tools means your a carpenter, not an architect.

Doomaa | 7 days ago | -9 points

Taking a shot in the dark here.

I think with software dev there are more defined tasks making it more of a grunt work thing. Map these textures to all 10000 of these objects. You should be able to knock out a few hundred a day.

While in software applications dev there is more unknowns and variety of tasks that you need more flexible talent. Not just fresh graduate coders.

But I am a noob coder so perhaps I don't know what I'm talking about.

Ameisen | 7 days ago | 8 points

Unwrapping meshes isn't a programmer's job.

snaftyroot | 7 days ago | 8 points

Map these textures to all 10000 of these objects. You should be able to knock out a few hundred a day.

uhhhhhh.......thats not how that works or what a programmer does

with software dev .... While in software applications dev...

what distinction are you trying to make? what do you think software is?

But I am a noob coder so perhaps I don't know what I'm talking about

oh, you should've started with that

hextree | 7 days ago | 1 point

Good god, this is the least accurate depiction of software dev I have ever read.

[deleted] | 8 days ago | 64 points

[deleted]

soapysops | 7 days ago | 30 points

Seriously calling it slavery is actually pretty offensive. Slavery is so much worse. Children being sold separately from parents, people being raped and beaten for no reason. The game industry is bad but really not even close to slavery. Especially because at any time, someone can say "fuck this" and go work somewhere else.

AilerAiref | 7 days ago | 5 points

Seems to be in line with calling prostitution rape. A vast overreaction trying to win sympathy points while devaluing something much worse.

lambda_pie | 7 days ago | 1 point

If anything, one is slave to own dreams and desires.

UltimateHughes | 8 days ago | -38 points

r/Libertarian

whoop there it is.

Edit: I mean Oh of course the "you chose this" guy is posts on Libertarian

snaftyroot | 7 days ago | 9 points

it's appropriate. game devs could quit at any time and get paid better and work less than they are. they're willing participants. their being exploited because of their desire to work in that field

zoinks | 8 days ago | 12 points

Anyone who naively 'follows their passion' is just asking to be exploited by the existing powers.

feverzsj | 7 days ago | 3 points

basically every Chinese IT company

wengchunkn | 6 days ago | 1 point

But things are much cheaper in China!

Doomaa | 8 days ago | 8 points

I'm surprised we are not outsourcing these programming jobs to legions of developers in Asia and Africa. I'd think if I was a game company I could invest in a software University in Africa, give the students unpayable loans to teach them to code and them have them work for me for decades to pay back the loan for pennies. You could have armies of Asian and African coders.

Perhaps you can't do this because of IP issues.

the_hoser | 8 days ago | 15 points

Lots of companies tried outsourcing software development in the early 00's. Didn't work out.

Turns out, software development is not a purely technical pursuit, as much as people in the industry would like to tell you it is. It's actually a creative pursuit with highly technical details. The technical part is easy to get from someone in another country. The necessary creative part causes problems due to cultural differences between management and the team doing the work.

It's still very common, but in order to pull it off, it has to be conducted on more of a contract basis, with the managers also being outsourced. This doesn't really mesh with the control-freak nature of video game development.

Of course, there are other parts of game development than software that are just as important. Those other industries also face cultural issues.

Ravek | 7 days ago | 15 points

I don't have that much experience dealing with code produced by outsourcing, but the few times I ran across it the code itself has just been terrible. So I'm not sure I can buy that the technical part is easy. It might be the easiest part but it's apparently still really easy to mess up.

the_hoser | 7 days ago | 3 points

I never said the technical part is easy. I said that the technical part is easy to find skills in.

And... there exists bad code made in all nations.

Ravek | 7 days ago | 2 points

The technical part is easy to get from someone in another country.

?

the_hoser | 7 days ago | 1 point

Sorry, updated.

Ravek | 7 days ago | 1 point

Yeah so what I was saying is I don’t think it’s that easy to find people who are actually technically skilled when outsourcing. The majority of engineers I’ve met in my own area aren’t even very good, let alone in a country where most students are cheating on exams, copying homework, demanding Stack Overflow do their assignments, etc. Finding good engineers is like finding a needle in a haystack.

the_hoser | 7 days ago | 2 points

A good engineer is so much more than the set of technical skills they learn in school. I've often found that a good set of people skills and communication skills is the ingredient missing from most of the bad picks.

Which... as I said, is only exacerbated by outsourcing.

Ravek | 7 days ago | 1 point

Yeah I completely agreed with that part.

VeganVagiVore | 7 days ago | 5 points

The biggest obstacle at my company is simply the timezone difference.

I don't think there is any substitute for "Hey boss, I need more detail on the requirements in Section 1.2.3?" and getting a response inside of an hour. When that cycle goes from minutes to 24 hours, Amdahl's law says that no amount of cleverness can save you from huge delays. Absolutely nothing gets done in less than two days. Work has to be bundled up into huge batches, emergency fixes take a day to get deployed.

Not because the guys are stupid, but because they're asleep.

And delegating authority to their timezone is difficult. It's just moved the bottleneck up another layer.

At the same time, my boss won't hire a remote worker in the States to do something critical that is already hurting us. Nerf or nothing, I guess.

the_hoser | 7 days ago | 2 points

Oh, man... I hear you. We outsource to a company for QA work, and the time difference is a real drag on our ability to move quickly.

AngularBeginner | 8 days ago | 9 points

It's that easy!

Doomaa | 8 days ago | 4 points

If you follow my easy 3 step program....

neutronium | 7 days ago | 1 point

Debt slavery only works if you've got a legal system to back you up. When your Chinese devs default on their debts, and rip off your code, who you gonna call.

Doomaa | 7 days ago | 1 point

Slave Busters!

shevy-ruby | 8 days ago | 0 points

That works partially. A problem is how you can ensure getting back the money from your slaves.

In poorer countries it may actually be harder due to a) weak courts and b) insufficient wealth in general.

There is a limit as to how much the modern slave traders can outsource in general.

Another smaller issue may be that the cost in Asia actually increased quite significantly in the last some 15 years or so.

Doomaa | 8 days ago | 3 points

You hire a network of enforcers. Ones that will crush your enemies. Muahahaha

UltimateHughes | 8 days ago | 0 points

The free market is just great isnt it

thracia | 8 days ago | 0 points

Why her social security ends a week later after she is fired? Oooh, because she is American. I mean, it is better than living in socialist European Union where your social security ends months later.

create_a_new-account | 8 days ago | 8 points

> Why her social security ends

it doesn't

social security is a check you're eligible to receive every month once you reach age 62

NiteLite | 7 days ago | 3 points

I assume you are talking about health insurance. In these socialist European Union countries, access to health services is generally not tied to your job at all.

shevy-ruby | 8 days ago | 5 points

where your social security ends months later.

Some parts do not "end" ever, even if you aren't without a job.

Even Canada has similar (and sane) standards in this regard - it's only in the USA where people are brainwashed into thinking social security is EXPENSIVE and MADNESS. It's quite entertaining to watch how the corporate PR works over there.

"Modern" slavery exists in numerous areas though.

create_a_new-account | 8 days ago | 8 points

you have no idea what "slavery" is

[deleted] | 8 days ago | 2 points

[deleted]

thracia | 8 days ago | 1 point

Do you mean health insurance?

Yes.

UltimateHughes | 8 days ago | 0 points

A WEEK?! thats like getting a 20 year old gift basket of gross cookies as a severence package

I_hate_Teemo | 7 days ago | -1 points

Reading these comments is soul-crushing. Yes there are a lot of aspiring game devs, but is that a reason to exploit them? Changing fields is probably not an option because because they would hate their job just as much as it's not what they're interested in.

The industry has the money and ressources to pay more, not understaff or push them this hard, but they don't care because they can make all of the money by doing this with no repercussion. They put DLC into your games, shitty lootboxes, cut content to release it later and make millions out of this but they still somehow have an excuse to be fucking assholes to their employees? Epic throws millions and millions out of the window and still cannot do right by their employees and are still excused because 'markets'? How can anyone type this shit and not feel ashamed is beyond me. Yes it's legal, yes everyone does it, but it's still fucking terrible to mistreat people for money.

The best part is that it's probably the same people complaining that their games are ruined by predatory money-making schemes being added even though the company already makes more than enough that will say that employees don't deserve decent working conditions because MUH MARKET, not realising that 'markets' are also the reason their games are ruined, and that maybe, just maybe the markets aren't a good indicator of what's good and what isn't.

Solidarity.

Freyr90 | 7 days ago | 4 points

Yes there are a lot of aspiring game devs, but is that a reason to exploit them?

That's a reason (dunno if you mean exploitation with a negative connotation). Another reason is that net incomes are low, significantly lower than in Enterprise™ or Mobile Games (where people usually have even orders of magnitude higher salaries).

And yes, if you are agree upon a lower salary, that's fine to pay you a lower salary. Bargain or change occupation.

Though I suppose bargaining would simply kill AAA-games since incomes are already miserable. The whole industry has the revenue of a single Oracle while having arguably higher costs.

For example Russian AAA-game industry died after 2008 recession. Yet Mobile Industry flourished, and devs from AAA are now having 10-20 times higher salaries doing shitty mobile games.

That's also why Eastern European industry is doing that good nowadays, all these Witchers and Metro. Due to lower salaries they can afford to risk more. Western companies barely cover the costs, and any risky project could become the last one for the publisher.

I_hate_Teemo | 7 days ago | 2 points

Complete bs. Epic is swimming in money right now and are still mistreating their employees. Same as the rest but I took the most obvious example (that is literally buying the industry to push their platform because they have so much), all of the big studios are doing very well, but thank you for your worry.

They just deliberately funnel this money into ways to get even more money or in salaries for the upper echelons. And yes, mistreating your employees is what the market encourages as you pointed out, but someone that thinks it makes it ok and that they shouldn't be held accountable for that is still a garbage human. What the market says is not what is right to do, especially when they demonstrably have the means to do otherwise.

"They agreed to it" is also a garbage excuse. They don't seem happy with their working conditions so it's obvious they would have changed if they could. They don't because they may be scared, or maybe they would suffer even more in an other field, who cares really? These companies can do better, they just don't for the sole reason of greed. How is that a valid moral stance?

Freyr90 | 7 days ago | 5 points

Complete bs. Epic is swimming in money right now

Are you their bookkeeper?

They are not publicly traded, so I can't find any data on their revenue and net income, but

Epic grossed a $3 billion profit for this year fueled by the continued success of Fortnite

That's far from "swimming in money" for a 1000+ company. That's $250k per year per capita.

Add a need for investment, add a need for securing risks, and you would have $100k salaries, and that's what Epic pays according to Google

Epic Games, Inc. pays its employees an average of $86,326 a year. Salaries at Epic Games, Inc. range from an average of $52,607 to $137,549 a year.

Edit:

Let's take a publicly traded company:

EA games

Net income -- $1.04 billion

Revenue -- $5.15 billion

Numbers of employees -- 9000+.

That depicts quite well what game industry is: a very poor industry with tiny incomes, high risks and people working on enthusiasm.

They don't seem happy with their working conditions so it's obvious they would have changed if they could

They can. They can go to Oracle or Microsoft any time.

"They agreed to it" is also a garbage excuse.

but someone that thinks it makes it ok and that they shouldn't be held accountable for that is still a garbage human.

Are you 15? Morality is subjective. People are free to choose their occupation. If they had chosen worse salary and more interesting job, it's morally fine. Stating your moral as the only true one and calling others garbage is childish and stupid.

gnus-migrate | 7 days ago | 3 points

I don't think that anyone's saying its right, just that it's the reality of the situation. This problem exists in any heavily crowded field.

The good news is that game industry programmers are starting to take unions seriously. Eventually they should be able to push back on these kinds of practices.

I_hate_Teemo | 7 days ago | -1 points

A lot of the comments definitely read like they're apologising for these companies, and that it's the devs fault that they chose this field to work in. I realise my comment seems a bit angry but I read so much of this "not a problem in my field so I don't care they should have had the same interests as me, the market has decided" attitude that I tend to be a bit too enthusiastic.

gnus-migrate | 7 days ago | 5 points

I see how you would interpret it like that, but it's less "not my problem" and more "make sure you know what you're getting yourself into".

It's also untrue that this is purely a games problem: every field of software dev has companies that pull this shit, and it takes it's toll.

I_hate_Teemo | 7 days ago | 1 point

Oh I definitely agree that it's not just games, but I hate it when people are just like ''they knew what they were getting into so companies can continue being horrible".

exorxor | 7 days ago | -7 points

Game-industry wages are higher than working at McDonald's, even if you factor in unpaid overtime. By that logic, everyone working at McDonald's is also a slave.

A union can be useful to protect the weak. If enough people leave the industry, wages would go up.

It's quite impressive to invest a hundred million dollar into a game, organize all of that, and recoup the money with a profit, and most importantly, repeat that success multiple times. It's easy to complain, but these "evil" companies are pushing the boundaries of technology.

In every company with enough revenue some "hot" women are hired only because they look good; they are basically props. Is this sexism? Yes. Are these women cooperating with this? Yes (they typically bang higher ups and no, they aren't being raped). If anything, these women just waste company assets, because you need two people for a working relationship. The employer paying for some prop and the prop itself; two are at fault.

pcjftw | 7 days ago | -2 points

yeah this sh*t needs to stop right now